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A Profile of a Modern Ayatollah
Madhi Hadavi Tehrani is one of Iran's 300 ayatollahs -- or scholars of Islamic philosophy and law. Here's a glimpse of his daily life in a country torn between its reformist president, Khatami -- who believes Islam allows for greater social and political freedoms -- and Iran's hard-line ruling clerics who oppose any change in their Islamic state.

Ayatollah Hadavi's views lie somewhere in the middle. He holds many traditional Islamic beliefs about women -- for example, they should cover themselves in public and their main duties rest with the family -- and yet, his own wife is a college teacher and he hopes his daughter will one day attend university.

Note: Video no longer available.


ABC's Nightline inteview with Ayatollah Hadavi in which he talks about Islam, America, and Sept. 11.
Tension Between Reformers and Conservatives in Iran
"Terror and Tehran," FRONTLINE's in-depth collection of material on the complexities of Iranian politics and society, and the U.S.'s complicated relationship with Iran.
Related Links and Readings

More on Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani

In the late 1970s, Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani was a student, studying electronic engineering. But after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he spent a decade specializing in Islamic philosophy and law and became one of Iran's 350 ayatollahs. He lives in the Holy city of Qom, the center of religious learning in Iran. Here, he teaches Shia interpretations of Sharia law to some of the 40,000 students who travel to Qom from as far away as China.

In Iran, Islamic scholars not only have influence, they control the country. It was the first modern nation-state to reject secular ideas and rebuild its government according to Islamic principles. In many Muslim countries, the Sharia influences the legal system, but is not strictly applied. In Iran -- an Islamic state -- the interpretations of the Sharia by scholars like Hadavi are the foundation of the law. But there is an on-going debate. Reformers like President Mohammad Khatami believe that Islam allows for greater social and political freedoms than are currently permitted. Hard-liners disagree.

Ayatollah Hadavi's views lie somewhere in between. Married with four children, he holds to many traditional Islamic beliefs about women -- for example that their primary duties are in the private sphere of the family and that modesty demands that they be covered while in public. At the same time, his own wife is a college teacher, and he has hopes that his daughter will one day attend university.

Tension Between Reformers and Conservatives in Iran

It is in Muslim countries and Islamic States like Iran where decisive battles are being fought over the role of Islam. Here traditionalists and reformers, conservatives and militants are engaged in a daily struggle over who among them will define the future face of Islam.

In 1997, the promise of greater social and political freedom led to the landslide election victory of Iran's President Mohammad Khatami. His reformist agenda had special appeal for Iran's increasingly young population, and for women.

However, the push for reform in Iran is often undermined by hard-line scholars who still advocate obedience over individual choice. Over the past year, some 15 journalists have been imprisoned for challenging state policies. In the past two years, 30 reform-oriented publications have been shut down. In April 2002, a newspaper editor in the north of Iran was sentenced to seven months in jail and 74 lashes for what the government called 'false reporting'

There is a popular reaction against such governmental crackdowns, however. Young Iranians spilled on to Tehran's streets in October 2001, when several soccer matches turned into street protests against the regime. By the time we filmed, a month later, security forces had clamped down. But the demonstrations had illustrated the growing popular frustration with the rate of change.

Links and Readings

· Interview: Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi

In these excerpts from his interview on ABC's Nightline, Hadavi talks about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. by Muslim terrorists. Although he condemns the terrorist acts and denies that there is any religious justification for such violence, he says he is angry at the United States government. He goes on to describe what he sees as America's distorted view of Islam, his role as an ayatollah, the changing roles of women in Iran, and more.

Selected Readings from FRONTLINE's May 2, 2002 report: "Terror and Tehran":

· Voices of Reform

Twenty-three years after the Islamic Revolution, Iran has become a political paradox. A young, sophisticated society, curious about the outside world and hungry for the advantages of modernity, Iran is caught in a struggle between democracy and religious authority. Can Iran resolve the paradox of a theocratic democracy? Here are excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with New York Times senior writer Elaine Sciolino; the reformist Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei; Iranian dissident Fariborz Raisdana; Iran's ambassador to Canada, Mohammad Ali Mousavi; and Iranian Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar, a former student revolutionary and one of the highest-ranking women in the Islamic world.

· The Structure of Power In Iran

An overview of the Iranian government and political system.

· By Popular Demand: Iranian Elections 1997-2001

This overview of five recent elections in Iran points to a consistent popular support for reformers in Iran who say they are trying to fashion a more open society.

· Iran at the Millenium

In this excerpt from The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran (2000), the American foreign correspondent Robin Wright returns to Iran in late 1999 to witness the social and political changes taking place on the eve of the historic 2000 parliamentary elections. "Iran launched the new millennium with an election," she writes. "The timing was appropriate, since the stakes were nothing short of the country's identity in the 21st century."

Additional Readings and Resources:

· The Veiled Threat -- The Iranian Theocracy's Fears of Women

This 1999 New Republic article by Asar Nafisi, an internationally recognized advocate for Iran's women, intellectuals and youth, outlines how Iran's repressive measures against women have paradoxically made them more visible and very powerful.

· Iran: A Country Study

An extensive overview of Iran from the research division of the U.S. Library of Congress, including historical background, details on the 1979 revolution, the role of Islam in Iran, and more.

· CIA -- The World Fact Book -- Iran

Statistics on the Iranian government and elections, economy and military, maps, and more.

· Iran and the War on Terrorism

An interactive overview from the washingtonpost.com on the U.S. approach to Iran in the wake of President Bush's "axis of evil" speech, which designated Iran a "grave and growing danger" to the United States.


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